The Dallas Cowboys had a perfect opportunity to take the lead of the NFC East on Sunday, but that honor will now go to the Washington Redskins who were able to hold off a late-game comeback and win 20-17. That’s going to make for a long bye week. Here are 10 thoughts on this very unsettling Sunday defeat to the Redskins.
1. Jeckyl and Hyde Prescott
I used to call Tony Romo a Jeckyl and Hyde quarterback because he could be so bad at times, yet then be so good. And sometimes within the same game (see Buffalo 2007). Well, this was one of those games for Dak Prescott.
Like with every game, I’m sure there are going to be some plays where Dak would love to have back once he sees the tape. Tony Romo pointed out one of these plays late in the fourth quarter.
Dak would also fumble away the ball twice in the game. After a spin move gifted the Redskins an easy touchdown, putting them up 20-10, that looked like the nail in the coffin. But Dak would keep fighting. He would make some good throws down the stretch and put it all out there when he lunged for a touchdown late in the game. The great thing about this play is that he was smart to understand that this play could not end in the field of play where the clock would keep running. It had to be incomplete or something in the end zone. Dak took the risk when he took off running, but he finished strong.
2. Zeke shutdown again
Nobody expected it to be easy running against the Redskins stout run defense, but man did they do a great job shutting down the Cowboys star running back. Ezekiel Elliott rushed for only 33 yards on 15 carries for a mesmerizing 2.2 yards per carry. Elliott has only been held under 80 yards six times in his career, but four of them have been this season. That’s alarming. His 33-yard performance against Washington is the second-worst of his career, trailing only the miserable eight-yard performance against Denver last season.
It’s a wonder the team even had a chance to be in this game with Elliott being contained as much as he was. The blocking wasn’t very good and Zeke really never had a fighting chance. You have to give the Redskins credit for doing such a great job, but the Cowboys are going to have real problems if Elliott is taken out of the game like that.
3. Costly penalties by the offensive line
The Cowboys didn’t have a lot of splash plays in the game, so it was frustrating when we witnessed some of them get called back due to a holding penalty by the offensive line. Three times Dallas would have a first down play come back when the offensive line would get flagged. And they weren’t “touchy” calls either. In some cases, the Cowboys blockers were grabbing the Redskins rushers by the neck.
So far today...— Cowboys Nation (@CowboysNation) October 21, 2018
Tyron Smith penalty kills a great run by Dak.
Connor Williams penalty kills a great throw from Dak to Beasley.
La’el Collins penalty kills a great run by Dak.
4. The ageless Peterson
Adrian Peterson ran for 99 yards on the day and it took him 24 carries to get there. It wasn’t flashy, but it was effective. This was about par for the course for Peterson who has been the Redskins grinder in the running game this season. It was his fourth game over 90 yards on the year.
It really wasn’t anything explosive. The Redskins would pull their guards and get blockers to the second level. Peterson had giant holes to run through.
It was surprising to see the Redskins run so effectively considering the Cowboys had Sean Lee back on the field. With Lee, Jaylon Smith, and Leighton Vander Esch there to attack ball carriers, I was expecting the Redskins ground game to be contained better than it was.
5. An unlikely target
The idea of targeting tight end Geoff Swaim was starting to grow on me. In his first year in his new role, he’s done a great job making some good chunk plays this season. So I was a little surprised when the team activated rookie tight end Dalton Schultz for this game. I was even more surprised that he’d get as many targets as Swaim on Sunday.
I’m really not a fan of all this dump-off stuff that Prescott does and having another tight end running routes short of the first-down marker is not my favorite thing to watch. And it further frustrates me to see passes bounce off of Schultz’ hands. Surely, he can’t be high on Prescott’s targets through his progressions, right? It feels like Dak makes his mind up too early at times where he’s going and for him to look Schultz so quickly seems to validate such.
6. A surprising target
How do you supplement the production left by the absence of Tavon Austin? Well, his workload isn’t much, but you got to get it somehow. Dak’s longest passing play of the season came in Week 2 when he found Austin for a 64-yards touchdown. He had his second-longest on Sunday when he hit Michael Gallup for a 49-yard touchdown. It was the rookie’s first touchdown of the year and this one really counted.
The Cowboys had Gallup come through as the deep threat and they used the spunky Cole Beasley to handle punt return duties, but what about the jet sweep? The Cowboys called cornerback Jourdan Lewis’ number for that one. He got one shot and turned it into a seven-yard gain.
7. A squandered defensive effort
While the Cowboys offense remains inconsistent, the defense has proven themselves to be very reliable. It’s hard to win games on the road, but the defense is doing all they can to give their team a chance to leave town with a victory.
The Dallas defense has allowed 72 points in its four road games. They’ve only allowed one of their opponents to score more than 20 points.— David Helman (@HelmanDC) October 22, 2018
And they’re 0-4 in those games.
Why is that exactly? Well, the Cowboys offense has yet to score over 17 points on the road this year. Ezekiel Elliott agrees...
Ezekiel Elliott: "We have to do better on offense. We got to help this defense out. This defense is playing as good as any other defense in the league, probably the best defense in the league. And we're not giving them any help. We haven't given them any help on the road."— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) October 22, 2018
8. Faith in the defense
When the Cowboys pulled within three with a minute in a half left, Jason Garrett had a tough decision - go with an onside kick or kick away and hope your defense makes a stop. One first down is all it would take to put the Cowboys away.
Garrett chose to kick it away and trust his defense. That decision didn’t end well a couple weeks ago against the Houston Texans, but it worked this time. The Cowboys defense stuffed the run on two-straight plays and then Sean Lee chased down Alex Smith on a key third down stop.
The Cowboys offense got the ball back and drove down the field, but then something terrible happened.
9. Costly infraction
Cowboys long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur is in his 14th season in the league and had never made a mistake...until Sunday. Ladouceur got called for a snap infraction when he made a motion as if he was going to snap the ball, drawing the Redskins defense offsides. I thought the flag was going to be on Washington and give Cowboys kicker Brett Maher and extra five yards to work with, but it ended up going the other direction. And boy, did that turn out to bite them.
After missing the first kick of his career, Maher had made 16 consecutive kicks. He hasn’t missed a kick under 50 yards all season. After the snap infraction penalty, the field goal attempt went from 47 yards to 52 yards and the extra distance ended up coming into play as the kick would doink off the goal post.
Long snapper L.P. Ladouceur was adamant that he didn’t do anything differently to cause a snap infraction causing a 5-yard penalty before Brett Maher’s 52-yard FG miss. “The exact same thing I’ve been doing for 14 years,” Ladouceur said. #cowboyswire— Rob Phillips (@robphillips3) October 22, 2018
10. The NFC East is still wide open
It doesn’t take the sting away mentioning that other teams in the division are losing games too, but the reality is - that’s what’s happening. The New York Giants aren’t anything to worry about and the Philadelphia Eagles choked away a 17-0 lead to the Carolina Panthers. Washington now holds a 1.5 game lead over both Dallas and Philadelphia for the lead, but it’s hard believing they are good enough to keep things rolling.
That means the fight is still ongoing.